Mining, sin tax bills endorsed-A A +A
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
IN A speech as long as a full-length movie, President Benigno Aquino III asked Congress to pass higher taxes on cigarettes and liquor, as well as a law that will help government get a bigger share of income from mining.
He drew the longest applause when he recommended “responsible parenthood” as an answer to long-standing backlogs on schools, books and other needs for education.
But he did not categorically ask Congress to pass the reproductive health bill, when he delivered yesterday afternoon his third State of the Nation Address (Sona).
Several of Cebu’s business leaders and public officials said they were satisfied with the Aquino administration’s results so far.
But at least one mayor said she would have appreciated the Sona more if it had mentioned efforts to increase the local governments’ share of national revenues.
The President also kept silent on proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution or to pass a Freedom of Information Act.
He did ask Congress to amend the Anti-Money Laundering Act and commended lawmakers for their handling of the impeachment trial of former chief justice Renato Corona.
“True unity and reconciliation can only emanate from genuine justice,” President Aquino said.
“Justice is the plunder case leveled against our former president; justice that she receives her day in court and can defend herself against the accusations leveled against her. Justice is what we witnessed on May 29 (when Corona was convicted.”
It was his longest Sona to date, and the President generated several buzz words that
were swiftly repeated on social networking sites like Twitter.
President Aquino said he finds it unacceptable to simply “forgive and forget” the alleged over-importation of rice by the previous administration; the failure to arm all police operatives; the Maguindanao massacre; and “the 10 years that were taken from us.”
“My response: Forgiveness is possible; forgetting is not,” said the President. “If offenders go unpunished, society’s future suffering is guaranteed.”
He made the gallery laugh when he recommended “remedial math” classes for critics—including students’ groups—who insist that government is spending less on education.
“Year after year, our budget for education has increased. The budget we inherited for the Department of Education last 2010 was P177 billion. Our proposal for 2013: P292.7 billion,” he said.
At least four of Cebu’s congressmen commended the President for his annual address.
“It is impressive to see the tremendous strides we have taken in just two years, where progress and reform have reached every corner of our nation,” said Rep. Luis Gabriel Quisumbing (Cebu, 6th district).
Rep. Pablo John Garcia (Cebu, 3rd district) said: “I’m happy with the increased commitment to education and infrastructure, and the gains in health and agriculture.”
Rep. Benhur Salimbangon (Cebu, 4th district) said what was “most important is his determination to go after abusive politicians and government officials, regardless of their political affiliations.”
Cebu City Rep. Tomas Osmeña (south district) said the administration’s accomplishments, especially regarding the poor, “are not enough, but it will get better.”
“Frankly, I’m impressed. And not once did he say, ‘Pakpak’ (Clap),” Osmeña also said.
Other local officials approved of the President’s mentioning not only accomplishments in the past two years, but targets for this year and the rest of his term, which ends in 2016.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama said the comparison of key figures was helpful and “provided beautiful colors” to the speech.
“He was sending a clear message: take me seriously,” he added.
“The Sona of the President was both comprehensive and substantive,” said Councilor Alvin Dizon.
“The President has set bold targets, which is timely after gaining in-roads in the fight against graft and corruption,” Cebu Provincial Board Member Arleigh Sitoy said.
Deadlines, he added, would put pressure on the government to work hard for economic development.
Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza said she had hoped that President Aquino would announce programs for the local government units (LGUs) in his Sona.
“I have attended all his Sona. And like before I expect him to tell us his plans and accomplishments on poverty alleviation and his campaign on corruption. This year, I hope there is something for LGUs,” she said in a text message, prior to the speech.
Radaza, who went to Manila to witness yesterday’s Sona, said she wanted to hear about a possible increase in the LGUs’ share of funds from the National Government.
Talisay City Vice Mayor Alan Bucao said he graded the Sona 90 out of 100. He was with the Talisay City Council attending the Sona in Manila yesterday.
Bucao said he was especially impressed by Aquino’s stance on government corruption. “He really means business,” he added.
Talisay City opposition Councilor Romeo Villarante, in a text message, said that while Aquino has accomplished a lot, it is now the time for the Filipinos to step up and do our part.
Hours before Aquino’s Sona, Naga City Mayor Valdemar Chiong commented that the President’s administration has succeeded in attracting more foreign investors, among others.
Some business leaders in Cebu commended the President for his Sona, for focusing on good governance and renewing confidence in the country.
“Change cannot be done outright given the complex problems he has inherited. We believe the economy will further grow while other countries will undergo various challenges. Good job, Mr. President!” said Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Philip Tan.
Filipino-Cebuano Business Club Inc. president Rey Calooy was also impressed with how specific the Sona was. “I’m very proud of being a Filipino, having a president who is very focused on good governance,” Calooy said.
Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Prudencio Gesta said that President Aquino delivered a “very a good report of his accomplishments that is truthful and with basis.”
“I wish that he would be more categorical and specific on how to reduce power cost, now considered the highest in Asia, to attract more investors; his big plans to improve infrastructure for international airports, seaports and better roads to hit the 10-million tourist arrivals target; and the fight against graft and corruption,” Gesta said.
Out in the streets, not everyone was as impressed with the Sona.
Various groups marched on the streets of Cebu City to deliver “The People’s Sona”.
These groups included the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Sanlakas and related organizations.
The Bayan-led group started from Fuente Osmeña to Colon St. while the Sanlakas-led group gathered on Colon and marched to Fuente Osmeña.
Showing a big progress report card, the Sanlakas-led group rated the President 70.7 in his performance so far.
The Sanlakas-led group carried with them sweet potatoes and dried fish to appeal to the President that the poor should not be neglected and that there are many of them who are still going hungry.
Both Bayan and Sanlakas blamed the privatization of government services for what they say is a widening gap between the rich and poor.
“About 1.4 million Filipinos are going abroad every year because there are fewer opportunities in the Philippines,” said Jaime Paglinawan, president of the local Bayan.
He also added that only three out of 10 farmers are tilling their own lands.
Land ownership was one of the many themes President Aquino mentioned in his speech.
“My mother initiated the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp). It is only just that this program sees its conclusion during my term,” the President said. “The law says, the nation says and I say: Before I step down, all the land covered by Carp will have been distributed.” (OCP/FMG/JGA/JKV/KOC/RSB/Raycyril Estillore, USJ-R Mass Com Intern)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 24, 2012.